The unhealthy opposition to our prescription for reform
The Rudd Government believes universal access to top quality health care and medicines is a right for every Australian, regardless of where they live or how much money they have.
Most Australians feel the same. It’s part of our “fair go” tradition, something that is I believe is one of the greatest things about Australia. However, tradition isn’t going to help our struggling health system. We know that left unchecked, health costs were set to eclipse entire state budgets by the middle of the century.
That is why the Rudd Government embarked upon the most significant reforms to the health system since the introduction of Medicare. Only a Labor Government – the founders of Medicare - would make such an undertaking.
In contrast, Mr Abbott, a curiously self described “late convert” to Medicare, oversaw a billion dollar cut to our hospitals while Health Minister.
We are shaping a health system that has the patient at the centre, keeps them fit and healthy and out of hospital, but provides the appropriate emergency and elective care when it is needed.
That ambition, and the important reforms to achieve it, were fully funded in yesterday’s budget - the culmination of our first term health reform agenda.
In total, we are providing total extra funding of $7.3 billion over the next five years for real improvements that will benefit ordinary Australians, every day.
Guaranteed access to elective surgery: The Rudd Government is providing $650 million to guarantee elective surgery waiting times and set a national target so that 95 per cent of Australians receive elective surgery within clinically recommended times.
$150 million will build infrastructure to support this – the equivalent of 15 new operating theatres.
Quicker access to care in emergency departments: The Rudd Government will provide $750 million to set a new National Four Hour Target for emergency department (ED) access in public hospitals - to be implemented progressively until 2015.
This means patients will have to be admitted to hospital, treated and discharged or referred within four hours of presentation at the department. The experience currently for a third of patients is this takes over eight hours.
More beds: $1.63 billion has been set aside for 1316 new sub acute beds. These new beds will boost capacity in our hospitals whilst providing more appropriate care for patients - including vulnerable patients requiring palliative or mental health care.
Quicker access to GPs, easier to get care: We know in some parts of Australia it can be hard to get into a doctor. The Government will invest $643 million to train a record 6,000 new doctors over the next decade, to ease the demand in the community.
Practice nurses provide important support to GPs and this Budget delivers $390.3 million to fund incentive payments of up to $25,000 to help GP’s employ practice nurses.
The Australian General Practice Network has estimated that GP clinics with a practice nurse are able to see an extra 800 patients each year, with the total investment enabling an extra 3.9 million patients can be seen every year Australia wide.
The bottom line is that this investment means it will be easier to see a doctor when you need to.
We are also establishing a $416.8 million nation wide network of primary health care organisations – Medicare Locals. The Medicare Locals will coordinate an expansion of access to after hours GP services, linked to a 24/7 national telephone based service.
Further, the Rudd Government has announced that it will invest $355.2 million to build around 450 GP Super Clinic type facilities. Around 23 new clinics will be purpose built and more than 400 general practices, primary care and community health services will be given Government assistance to build expanded facilities and provide coordinated care.
Managing chronic disease and keeping people out of hospitals: One million Australians have diabetes. For the first time, patients with diabetes will be able to enrol with the GP practice of their choice. That GP will then be responsible for managing the patients’ care, including access to allied health services, such as podiatry or a dietician. Additional payments will be available to doctors who achieve good results.
These are just a few aspects of the package that will make a difference to way we access health care.
While the Government has been hard at work to deliver this comprehensive package Tony Abbott has failed to articulate any health policies.
Corporate tax thought bubbles, welfare thought bubbles, scare mongering on asylum seekers, Malcolm Turnbull retiring one day, not retiring the next – who knows where Tony will land next?
Amazingly, his health spokesperson, Mr Dutton, has managed to hold press conference after press conference - on an almost daily basis - without actually saying anything at all. The time for blame shifting and buck passing in health is a Howard Government tradition that Mr Abbott should ditch.
We have a comprehensive plan to reform our health system and deliver the better health and better hospitals that Australians need and deserve.
If Mr Abbott can’t provide a credible, considered policy alternative, then he needs to step up and support our plan.
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